Free speech ero­sion

The Daily Observer - - NEWS - PAUL KELLY

Years ago, in Toronto, I went to a pub­lic read­ing by one of my favourite Cana­dian au­thors W.P. Kin­sella.

Kin­sella, moody and ec­cen­tric, is best known for his book Shoe­less Joe Jack­son Comes to Iowa that was made into the movie Field of Dreams. (The book and movie are not about base­ball.)

But prior to that he had writ­ten a lot of sto­ries about life on a re­serve. The sto­ries - which I have read - are not flat­ter­ing.

They speak of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, drug and al­co­hol abuse, crime, and van­dal­ism on re­serves. Kin­sella had never lived on a re­serve.

Also, he was not In­dige­nous. He said that he wrote about the op­pressed and the op­pres­sor of­ten mock­ing the bu­reau­cracy that man­aged In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties in­com­pe­tently.

The open­ing act for Kin­sella was an Amer­i­can writer named Alexie Sher­man. A mem­ber of the Spokane Na­tion. Sher­man spent most of his time roast­ing Kin­sella, mock­ing his “base­ball books” and con­demn­ing his por­trayal of In­dige­nous peo­ple.

Sher­man’s read­ing was about a home­less, al­co­holic, pan­han­dling Na­tive women who told peo­ple that walked passed that she was a “land­lady.” The en­tire city of Seat­tle - in the read­ing was built on land once owned by her peo­ple.

For his part, when Kin­sella came out to speak, he did not ac­knowl­edge any­thing Sher­man had said. (Later he wrote in a note to me that he had thought about do­ing so but de­cided that Sher­man was a ‘light­weight.”)

But it struck me as rather odd that both men had ba­si­cally por­trayed In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties in al­most iden­ti­cal terms. The dif­fer­ence ob­vi­ously is that Sher­man was In­dige­nous, had lived on re­serves, thus could write about it. To some, Kin­sella couldn’t. Now I don’t write a lot of fic­tion - aside from my own re­sume - but I do read a lot of it. It might sur­prise you to know that I am quite well read.

When­ever I read I would as­sume that the au­thor has re­searched their topic, made their char­ac­ters plau­si­ble, events real enough to hap­pen.

If not then I would sug­gest that they don’t write about it. But at the end of the day, I am pro-free speech and pro mak­ing your own bone­headed mis­takes by ei­ther writ­ing a stinker or at least spark­ing some de­bate.

That seems to be on the wane these days. Free speech, healthy de­bate is dy­ing. Be­cause, ap­par­ently, if you are not of a cul­ture you have no “right” to write about it.

It is a po­si­tion that is cat­e­gor­i­cally wrong. But peo­ple can hold it.

For ex­am­ple, I write a lot about gov­ern­ment - all lev­els of it. I do so based on years of ex­pe­ri­ence in it.

I have worked in all forms of gov­ern­ment di­rectly and in­di­rectly so I know that when I say all gov­ern­ments are waste­ful, I know it to be true.

Gov­ern­ments are made up of peo­ple and peo­ple are fal­li­ble thus gov­ern­ment is too.

All I ever ask is to know where our tax dol­lars go. We gave you ‘X’ dol­lars to solve a prob­lem, im­prove lives and where did it go?

It’s a le­git­i­mate ques­tion of gov­ern­ment, banks, unions, in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions (i.e. the UN) and any or­ga­ni­za­tion that gets gov­ern­ment cash. Where does the cash go?

So if I were to write about my con­cern about why gov­ern­ment money - mil­lions of dol­lars - given out to help In­dige­nous peo­ple, is be­ing wasted that would be le­git­i­mate. Or peo­ple con­tin­u­ing to live in squalor or with no wa­ter or with high rates of sui­cide, mur­der and sub­stance abuse, that would be a le­git­i­mate mat­ter of pub­lic pol­icy wor­thy of de­bate.

If I were to ask for a de­tailed dis­clo­sure of how and where that money is spent by the lead­er­ship of those in­di­vid­u­als, that would be per­fectly ac­cept­able as well. If I won­dered aloud about why some in lead­er­ship roles seem­ingly live very com­fort­able lives, that would be an as­tute ob­ser­va­tion.

I would bal­ance it with praise for those that use the money wisely and bet­ter the lives of their mem­bers and point out that the abuse of money, say on ex­pen­sive cars or ex­penses or salaries, are in the mi­nor­ity of sit­u­a­tions.

But there are some that would con­sider that hos­tile or even racist. This is the chill that ends free speech and de­bate. This is what kills free speech slowly.

Writ­ers - all writ­ers - should be free to write re­spon­si­bly about any­thing and any mat­ter they feel com­fort­able with. The reader can take it with a grain of salt or take it as gospel.

The mo­ment we start say­ing, “You can’t write that be­cause you are not (in­sert la­bel here),” we suf­fer. As a com­mu­nity, free­dom of ex­pres­sion is the great­est free­dom. Al­ways has been. Hope­fully, al­ways will be.

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